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Beth Israel's Transparency-Touting Levy Apologizes for Doing Something to Someone

Marianne Aiello, for HealthLeaders Media, April 28, 2010

My favorite news stories are the ones that you could slip onto the front page of The Onion without anyone noticing. The Boston Globe article about Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center CEO Paul Levy apologizing for making some unspecified "lapses in judgment" regarding an unspecified "personal relationship" is certainly Onion-esque. Whatever the blogging CEO's blunder, the Beth Israel board's and spokesperson's responses to the situation provide a lesson in crisis communications.

To give Beth Israel credit, the board took the first step and reached out to the Globe by issuing a written statement on Tuesday.

"Recently, a letter was sent anonymously to some of our board members and it involved allegations about our CEO," board chairman Stephen B. Kay wrote. "Even though the letter was anonymous, the board felt it needed to conduct further inquiry and has done so . . . It is the policy of this hospital to take all allegations seriously."

By Wednesday, two anonymous hospital sources told the Globe that the "undisclosed lapses of judgment" have something to do with an unidentified female employee and that the board is considering asking Levy to pay for the severance package Beth Israel gave the woman when she left her job last year.

But what I can't decide is why the board didn't just come out with it in the first place. Obviously they believed the presumably salacious details would eventually come out, which is why they took preemptive measures in contacting the media. But is not spilling their guts really helping anything? Beth Israel's internal rumor mill must be running faster than Goldman Sach's executives wish they were from Capitol Hill.

Not to mention external speculation and media coverage (i.e., this column).

Perhaps I'd cut the organization a little more slack if the person accused of wrongdoing wasn't one of the country's most prominent blogging hospital CEOs, who often writes about the importance of transparency on his Running a Hospital blog.

And if you're looking for more information, don't ask Beth Israel spokesperson Judy Glasser. She told the Globe that the board would not provide more details on Levy's actions because it does not discuss personnel matters with the public. I would say this approach was logical if, oh I don't know, the board hadn't been the one to alert the public about the aforementioned "personnel matters."

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